By: Stephanie LaRue
I’m going to let you in on a secret. It’s a big one, too. It’s a secret that could damage my credibility. It might even get my writer’s card revoked.
I’m not a big reader. I can count the number of books I read when I wasn’t in school on one hand. Hell, I haven’t even read all the Harry Potter books.
That’s my label: A writer who doesn’t read. It’s like a chef who doesn’t eat. It doesn’t make much sense.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate reading everything. Like I said, there were at least five books I read in a five year period that no one forced upon me. One of those books, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto by Chuck Klosterman, changed the course of my life.
I don’t remember how I got my hands on this book. Chances are I borrowed it from a friend and never gave it back. Since then, I’ve purchased it twice and gave away both copies. It was the first time I’d read a book that wasn’t a novel. Klosterman’s book is a collection of essays, all written in the period of time right before he went to sleep. The first essay, called “This is Emo,” immediately hooked me:
It appears that countless women born between the years of 1965 and 1978 are in love with John Cusack. I cannot fathom how he isn’t the number-one box-office star in America, because every straight girl I know would sell her soul to share a milkshake with that motherfucker. For upwardly mobile women in their twenties and thirties, John Cusack is the neo-Elvis. But here’s what none of these upwardly mobile women seem to realize: They don’t love John Cusack. They love Loyd Dobler.
The essay talks about the idea of “fake love” through the lens of John Cusack, Woody Allen, and “When Harry Met Sally,” and how according to Klosterman, no one can be satisfied by real love because what people really want is the fake love they see in movies.
Now, for a 17-year-old girl who had just seen “Say Anything” and was under Cusack’s/Dobler’s spell (I mean, who didn’t want to listen to Peter Gabriel in the rain with that trench coat-wearing cutie pie?) this essay spoke my language. I was clearly Klosterman’s audience. To this day, I can’t have a conversation without integrating pop culture references. But especially as a high school senior searching for the meaning of life in an Elliott Smith CD and episodes of The O.C., I was buying what Klosterman was selling.
More importantly, I specifically remember thinking, If he can have a career writing about Zack Morris and Guns and Roses cover bands, what’s stopping me?
My journaling drastically changed after reading Klosterman’s essays. All I wanted to do was write like him. I wanted to find that voice within me that reflected the hours of movies and TV and sad pop songs I’d consumed. Reading those essays inspired me to write, because there was an audience out there who could relate to my pop culture-obsessed brain.
If you struggle with writing, I suggest picking up a book. Think back to a book you couldn’t put down, and isolate what you liked so much about it. Maybe you like novels with dynamic, unforgettable characters. Perhaps musician autobiographies get your pages turning. It doesn’t matter what you like. What matters is figuring out why you like what you like.
Once you establish what gets you going, try to recreate it. Invent a character, and write a brief description, or thought process from its point of view. Write about an important event in your life as if you were composing your memoir. Script that bitter argument you’ve always wanted to have with your best friend.
The idea here isn’t to replicate these techniques how your favorite author would do it, but to use the elements that attract you as a reader and use them as a writer. In my case, it was taking themes pertinent in my life (for example, a long distance relationship) and integrating something TV related (in this specific case, why I hated “How I Met Your Mother’s” Ted Mosby for treating his long distance girlfriend like leftover lasagna).
If you write what you would read, you already have an audience, and one you know pretty intimately. Try different things until you create something that makes you proud.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with my couch, a bowl of popcorn, and John Cusack.